Setup by husband and wife team Karl and Catherine Mason with the aim of creating a gin that they would want and choose to drink, Masons Yorkshire Gin is a spirit proud of it’s Northern heritage.
The duo may have long been both gin-lovers themselves, but becoming distillery owners was a far cry from their previous career paths: Karl used to work as the managing director of Ripon Publishing Group of Open Doors Media, whilst Catherine was a teaching assistant for special needs children.
The journey into ginsmithery started from a Facebook page called Gin & Tonic Friday established by Karl in 2012, in which he wrote short posts about some of the best gins on the market, alongside features and news that captured his interest. The eureka moment occurred when he hit the 10,000 follower mark. He realised his knowledge of the category was becoming more extensive and that his continued efforts to feature had by then gained a large audience. Karl, having tasted many gins, also had a good sense of what he personally liked and did not like. The couple’s shared passion paired with their ever-expanding knowledge about the category meant that they began to envision setting up a distillery.
The mission was simple. They wanted to do away with boring generic gins and instead come up with something that was truly exciting, worthy of their hard work and of their home turf in God’s own county.
The duo embarked on what became a long, complicated journey of trial and error in search of a perfect gin taste that was also unique in flavour. Their desire to create their spirit in Yorkshire is a crucial point, as having left their jobs they soon realised that to do so, they were going to have to make the gin themselves, given all the distilleries in Yorkshire had unfortunately been shut-down many years before. After an extensive search for a location they settled on a workshop in Bedale, a market town in North Yorkshire.
However, with costs, legalities and having to either learn how to distil or assemble the right team in order to distil a spirit all part of the challenges of establishing a distillery – the duo decided to begin by working with Cambridgeshire based English Spirit Company to launch their Gin. They spent several months before they were happy with the final recipe and botanical line, with Masons Yorkshire Gin first released on World Gin Day, 15th June 2013. Within a week 90% of their first release of 120 bottles had been sold.
The growing popularity of their Yorkshire Gin and it’s distinct profile, Gin in general and the strong thirst to see more locally made spirits all worked to give Masons a quick foothold in the market. The duo finally managed to take delivery of a still in March 2014.
They then spent three further months tinkering with the recipe to adjust it to their new still (as each still has it’s own idiosyncrasies that need to be factored in to match an existing flavour profile). In June 2014, almost one year after the gin’s initial launch, Yorkshire officially had its first operational distillery with production of Masons Gin finally actually happening in the county.
At the time of writing (Jan 2016) Masons Yorkshire Gin is made on a 300lt still, nicknamed Steve. Incidentally, he also has a twin brother, which is yet to be named but is set to help the distillery expand its production to keep up with their steady growth. The botanical line-up is undisclosed, however, based on images and the flavours we can smell and taste, it is likely to contain (amongst others) – juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, cardamom, cinnamon, dried lemon peel, fresh lime peel, bay leaf and fennel.
Talking about their distilling process (for those wondering – at the helm of Steve is former Gordon’s & Tanqueray distiller Gerard MacKluskey), Masons Gin Ambassador Sarah Peel describes a typical week at the distillery:
“We distil using a single shot process Tuesday-Friday. Monday is spent preparing the stills for the first distillation. We only put 250 litres of alcohol in despite it being a 300 litre still so it has room. The botanicals are put in at the end of the day to soak overnight on Monday evening, apart from the fresh lime zest which goes in just before we distil the following morning. The still is turned on at 5am Tuesday morning and we finish collecting product at 4pm Tuesday. Once completed the still will be emptied and reloaded to repeat this process on Thursday and Friday.”
Harrogate spring water is used to cut the spirit down to get it to the 42% ABV bottling strength, with the 275 bottle batches then labelled (each of the Masons Gin bottles are individually numbered) and packed in-house.
On the nose, there is a strong waft of their base spirit intermingled with juniper, cardamom and a peppery freshness. To taste Masons Gin is surprisingly smooth given the raw grainy nose, with bursts of citrus, fennel and liquorice accompanying juniper core. The creamy (almost malty) juniper and a touch of fennel marks a quick, yet satisfying finish. We’d recommend using a thin slice of lemon in a G&T, but for those who enjoy more adventurous pairings and in search of something truly memorable and refreshing, try matching it with orange peel and cardamom pods along with Thomas Henry Tonic Water.
Mason’s Gin is another good example of a small batch gin that taps into proud local culture. Yorkshire folk are fiercely loyal to their region (there are a few at Gin Foundry HQ!) and with time, many will adopt Masons’ as their own.
For those who find the savoury aspects of the Masons’ flagship Yorkshire Gin too overpowering, the distillery released two variants in 2015. Yorkshire Gin Lavender Edition (42% ABV) focuses around the more fragrant notes of lavender, while Yorkshire Gin Tea Edition (42% ABV) uses Yorkshire tea as an aromatic and slightly bitter backdrop to their usual botanicals.
It’s clear to see the team have not only improved their offering since their launch (by adding sister expressions and creating a smoother outcome in their flagship gin), they have taken their process in house. Seeing early supporters having the wool pulled over their eyes about where it was made, especially as it was because of their advocacy that the word about a Yorkshire Gin had travelled so quickly, had been a major bugbear of ours.
However, it seems that now that everything is on display and production is indeed in Yorkshire (the distillery does not have a visitor centre as such but it is possible to organise a visit if one gets in touch first), there is a lot more transparency about the early days and what they are creating today. While they may be forgiven for blatantly wordsmithing around the truth in the past, it’s not quite been forgotten yet as new Yorkshire based Gins are fast to point out, having looked on and learned from the trail-blazing duo and now trying to emulate their success. In fairness, even though the competition is on to be the premier local spirit – the Masons still have an edge and their distinct offering is not just the benchmark for Yorkshire based gins, so far it remains a step ahead of the rest.
We expect to see it flourish in the region and beyond in 2016 and with their expanding range, their will certainly be a lot to look forward to!
For more information about Masons Yorkshire Gin, visit their website: www.masonsyorkshiregin.com
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